Not so long ago on a trip to Thailand, I visited the Koh Samui (เกาะสมุย, Samui Island), for a wedding celebration. Koh Samui is an island on the east coast of Thailand. On the way back, while I was waiting at the airport for my flight, I noticed this unusual tree, so I photographed and later researched it.
Couroupita guianensis is also known as the Cannonball Tree. It is a tropical deciduous tree native to Central and South America. It has beautiful, fragrant flowers and a very interesting fruit which is brownish ball hanging from the tree branches. It belongs to the Lecythidaceae family of plants.
Couroupita guianensis can grow to about 35m or 11ft. The foliage appears in clusters at the end of the branches. The leaves sometimes drop twice a year rather than once. The flowers appear on racemes and bloom for only one day. The mature trees have these leafless thick tangled vine-like branches that flowers and fruits are hanging from.
It can flower profusely you might see 1000 flowers per tree in a day. The flowers are fragrant at night and early morning. Couroupita guianensis has bright colored flowers ranging from pink to yellow and red, they have six petals and two stamens. The flowers don’t have nectar but they still attract bees, wasps, flower flies, and bumblebees, which helps with the pollination. Couroupita guianensis produces two types of pollen the ring stamens have fertile pollen whereas, the hood has sterile pollen. It is generally disease-free and pest-free. Care should be taken not to plant this where there is foot traffic as dropping fruit can hurt passers underneath. They prefer sun and average water and moist soil, but do not overwater.
Couroupita guianensis fruit which has a woody shell is brown can grow up to 10in or 25cm in diameter. Large fruits can contain hundreds of seeds. However, fruits take very long to mature 12 to 18 months. The flesh of the fruit is white but changes color when exposed and through oxidation to blue. The fruits are edible but seldom consumed by humans. It is mostly fed to livestock such as pigs as they have an unpleasant aroma. However, humans used it for traditional medicine. Native Amazonians use it to treat hypertension, tumors, and inflammation as well as colds, malaria, and even toothache.
Couroupita guianensis was named by Jean Baptiste Christophore Fusée Aublet (1720-1778), a French botanist and also a pharmacist. He was the first to study Neotropic plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of local culture and people also known as ethnobotany. In India, the tree is considered as sacred, it has religious significance as they believe that the flower resembles Nāga, semi-divine deities half human and half serpent, therefore, Hindus plant this tree near Shiva temples.
Couroupita guianensis is cultivated widely and it is known by many local names:
Bangladesh: Nagalinga Ful or Nagalingam
Colombia: Coco sachapura
Costa Rica: Bala de cañón
France: Arbre à boulet de canon
French Guiana: Kouroupitoumou
Karnataka, India: Nagalinga Pushpa
Kerala, India: Naaga danthee
Odisha, India: Nagakeshara ନାଗକେଶର
Tamil, India: NagalingamorLingam
Telangana, India: Nagamalli
Panama: Coco sachapura, or Granadillo de las huacas, or Bala de canon